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Food stamp use shows scope of child poverty

child poverty.jpg

New findings published today in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine suggest child poverty in the United States is even more widespread than previously suspected. Reviewing data from 1968 to 1997, researchers at Cornell and Washington University in St. Louis found about half of all U.S. children lived in households that received food stamps at some point during their childhoods.

And the current economic downturn is making the situation worse, says Stanford's Paul Wise, MD, MPH, in an accompanying editorial. The number of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - the official name for food stamps - is at record-high levels of close to 34 million, Wise notes. Kids are especially hard off because parents are losing their jobs at the same time that cash-strapped state governments are cutting sharply back on social programs that benefit children.

The consequences of all this poverty flow into the pediatrician's office, Wise says:

Sooner or later, deleterious or ineffective policies will find clinical expression in patterns of illness, hospitalization and ultimately death. History has shown that this cascade is never more intense than for children the current recession, the deepest since the Great Depression, will touch virtually all pediatric practices.

Growth stunting, under-nutrition, chronic asthma, lead poisoning and poor cognitive function are just some of the health problems that stem from childhood poverty, the research article notes. Not only are these problems costly to treat in the short run, if not caught early they contribute to decades of health problems as children age.

So pediatricians need to go to bat for kids, Wise concludes, asking his colleagues to advocate politically for their patients at the local, state and federal government levels:

Children cannot vote. However, the real question is why should they have to?

To read the whole editorial, click here (subscription required to access full text). The research article is available here (again, subscription required for full text).

Photo by Paulo Sacramento

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